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Australia

Australia Plans Biometric Border Control (bbc.com) 71

The Australian government is planning to allow 90% of travellers to pass through passport control without human help by 2020. From a report: With a $100m budget, it has begun the search for technology companies that could provide biometric systems, such as facial, iris and fingerprint recognition. Head of border security John Coyne said it could be a "world first." But critics have questioned the privacy implications of such a system. "Biometrics are now going in leaps and bounds, and our ability to harness the power of big data is increasing exponentially," Mr Coyne told the Sydney Morning Herald. The department of border security hopes to pilot the "Seamless Traveller" project in Canberra this summer, with rollout to larger airports scheduled to be completed by spring 2019.
Australia

Humans, Not Climate Change, Wiped Out Australian Megafauna (phys.org) 174

"New evidence involving the ancient poop of some of the huge and astonishing creatures that once roamed Australia indicates the primary cause of their extinction around 45,000 years ago was likely a result of humans, not climate change," reports Phys.org. schwit1 quotes their report on new analysis of a prehistoric sediment core from the Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia. The core contains chronological layers of material blown and washed into the ocean, including dust, pollen, ash and spores from a fungus called Sporormiella that thrived on the dung of plant-eating mammals, said CU Boulder Professor Gifford Miller, who participated in the study... Fungal spores from plant-eating mammal dung were abundant in the sediment core layers from 150,000 years ago to about 45,000 years ago, when they went into a nosedive, said Miller... "The abundance of these spores is good evidence for a lot of large mammals on the southwestern Australian landscape up until about 45,000 years ago," he said. "Then, in a window of time lasting just a few thousand years, the megafauna population collapsed."

The Australian collection of megafauna some 50,000 years ago included 1,000-pound kangaroos, 2-ton wombats, 25-foot-long lizards, 400-pound flightless birds, 300-pound marsupial lions and Volkswagen-sized tortoises. More than 85 percent of Australia's mammals, birds and reptiles weighing over 100 pounds went extinct shortly after the arrival of the first humans, said Miller... "There is no evidence of significant climate change during the time of the megafauna extinction."

The article adds that last year Miller also identified the first direct evidence that humans preyed on Australian megafauna -- burned eggshells from a 400-pound bird.
Earth

Female Shark Learns To Reproduce Without Males After Years Alone (newscientist.com) 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Scientist: A female shark separated from her long-term mate has developed the ability to have babies on her own. Leonie the zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) met her male partner at an aquarium in Townsville, Australia, in 1999. They had more than two dozen offspring together before he was moved to another tank in 2012. From then on, Leonie did not have any male contact. But in early 2016, she had three baby sharks. Intrigued, Christine Dudgeon at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and her colleagues began fishing for answers. One possibility was that Leonie had been storing sperm from her ex and using it to fertilize her eggs. But genetic testing showed that the babies only carried DNA from their mum, indicating they had been conceived via asexual reproduction. Some vertebrate species have the ability to reproduce asexually even though they normally reproduce sexually. These include certain sharks, turkeys, Komodo dragons, snakes and rays. However, most reports have been in females who have never had male partners. In sharks, asexual reproduction can occur when a female's egg is fertilized by an adjacent cell known as a polar body, Dudgeon says. This also contains the female's genetic material, leading to "extreme inbreeding", she says. "It's not a strategy for surviving many generations because it reduces genetic diversity and adaptability." Nevertheless, it may be necessary at times when males are scarce. "It might be a holding-on mechanism," Dudgeon says. "Mum's genes get passed down from female to female until there are males available to mate with." It's possible that the switch from sexual to asexual reproduction is not that unusual; we just haven't known to look for it, Dudgeon says.
Android

Qualcomm Details Snapdragon 835 Processor (pcmag.com) 42

Qualcomm has detailed the Snapdragon 835 processor, which will power most of the leading Android smartphones this year. It's designed to grab information from the air at gigabit speeds and turn it into rich virtual and augmented reality experiences, according to several executives at a pre-CES briefing. Qualcomm SVP Keith Kressin said, "The 835 is going to be one of the key devices that propels the VR use case." PC Magazine reports: The hardest thing to understand about the Snapdragon 835, especially if you're thinking from a desktop CPU space, is how much Qualcomm has been prioritizing elements of the system-on-chip other than the CPU. This has been coming for years, and it can be tricky because it relies on firmware and the Android OS to properly distribute work to non-CPU components of the chip. During the briefing, it was striking how little Qualcomm talked about its Kryo 280 CPU, as compared to other components. Qualcomm tries to counter that by pointing out that this is the first 10nm mobile processor, which will improve efficiency, and also by saying the CPU is "tightly integrated" with other components using the new Symphony system manager, which operates automatically yet can be customized by application developers. This distributes work across the CPU, GPU, DSP, and more exotic components, letting the Snapdragon 835 work better than it would with CPU alone. How that will combine with Qualcomm's recent announcement that it will support Windows 10 on mobile PCs, including legacy Win32 apps, is yet to be seen. The Snapdragon 835 consumes 25 percent less power than the 820, according to Qualcomm. That means seven hours of 4K streaming video and two hours of VR gaming on a typical device, the company said. These new uses are really power hungry. Since Qualcomm can only do so much on power efficiency, it's also introducing Quick Charge 4, which supposedly charges a phone to five hours of use in five minutes and is USB-C power delivery compliant. The new Adreno 540 graphics chip improves 3D performance by 25 percent over the previous generation, Qualcomm said. But it also enables features like HDR10, which improves colors; foveated rendering, which most clearly renders what you're looking at rather than elements in the periphery of a scene; and low latency, which allows you to move your head smoothly around VR scenes. With one 32MP or two 16MP cameras running at the same time, the Snapdragon 835 supports various dual-camera functions. The Snapdragon 835 will feature the X16 modem, which Qualcomm announced earlier this year and will be able to boost LTE to gigabit speeds. The keys to gigabit LTE are triple 20MHz carrier aggregation with 256-QAM encoding and 4x4 MIMO antennas, said Qualcomm's senior director of marketing, Peter Carson. That's going to be first introduced with a Netgear hotspot in Australia this January, but Sprint and T-Mobile have said they're trying to assemble this set of technologies.
Software

Steam Fined $3 Million For Refusing Refunds (smh.com.au) 160

Gaming company Valve Corporation has been hit with a $3 million fine after the Federal Court found its online games site Steam breached Australian Consumer Laws. From a report: The court imposed the maximum fine requested by Australia's competition regulator because of Valve's disregard for Australian law and lack of contrition. Valve's general counsel, Karl Quackenbush, told the court the company did not obtain legal advice when it set up in Australia, and did not check its obligations until the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission got involved in April 2014. It only provided staff verbal instructions. This lack of interest in Australian laws and lack of cooperation encouraged Justice James Edelman to impose a pentaly 12 times more than Valve Corporation suggested it pay.
Botnet

The FBI Is Arresting People Who Rent DDoS Botnets (bleepingcomputer.com) 212

This week the FBI arrested a 26-year-old southern California man for launching a DDoS attack against online chat service Chatango at the end of 2014 and in early 2015 -- part of a new crackdown on the customers of "DDoS-for-hire" services. An anonymous reader writes: Sean Krishanmakoto Sharma, a computer science graduate student at USC, is now facing up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000. Court documents describe a service called Xtreme Stresser as "basically a Linux botnet DDoS tool," and allege that Sharma rented it for an attack on Chatango, an online chat service. "Sharma is now free on a $100,000 bail," reports Bleeping Computer, adding "As part of his bail release agreement, Sharma is banned from accessing certain sites such as HackForums and tools such as VPNs..."

"Sharma's arrest is part of a bigger operation against DDoS-for-Hire services, called Operation Tarpit," the article points out. "Coordinated by Europol, Operation Tarpit took place between December 5 and December 9, and concluded with the arrest of 34 users of DDoS-for-hire services across the globe, in countries such as Australia, Belgium, France, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States." It grew out of an earlier investigation into a U.K.-based DDoS-for-hire service which had 400 customers who ultimately launched 603,499 DDoS attacks on 224,548 targets.

Most of the other suspects arrested were under the age of 20.
Australia

The Pirate Bay, BitTorrent Websites To Be Blocked In Australia, Federal Court Rules (abc.net.au) 112

New submitter AnonymousCube writes: The Federal Court has made a ruling that will result in internet access for Australians being censored. Five websites are to be blocked after being deemed to be copyright infringing, most notable of which is The Pirate Bay. Internet service providers are given the choice of how they will implement blocking, but the result will be that when a user visits a blocked site they will be redirected to a warning page telling them the site cannot be accessed. Other sites being blocked are the BitTorrent websites Torrentz, TorrentHound, and IsoHunt, and the streaming service SolarMovie.
Earth

Great Barrier Reef Has Worst Coral Die-Off Ever, Report Finds (usatoday.com) 235

Australia's Great Barrier Reef has suffered from its worst coral die-off ever recorded, according to a new study from the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies based at James Cook University. "Stress from the unusually warm ocean water heated by man-made climate change and the natural El Nino climate pattern caused the die-off," reports USA Today. At more than 1,400 miles long, Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef and the planet's biggest structure made by living organisms. In the northernmost section of the reef, which had been considered the most "pristine," some 67% of the coral died. The good news, scientists said, was that central and southern sections of the reef fared far better, with "only" 6% and 1% of the coral dead, respectively. Coral reefs result from the work of little polyps, creatures only a few millimeters long, budded on top of one another. Over centuries, the shells of these creatures combine to form the exotic shapes of coral reefs. Tiny differences in the anatomy of each polyp species affect the shape of their shells and produce the exotic shapes of each reef. The vibrant colors that draw thousands of tourists to the Great Barrier Reef each year come from algae that live in the corals tissue. When water temperatures become too high, coral becomes stressed and expels the algae, which leave the coral a bleached white color. Mass coral bleaching is a new phenomenon and was never observed before the 1980s as global warming ramped up. Besides their beauty, reefs shelter land from storms, and are also a habitat for myriads of species.
IBM

IBM To Pay More Than $30 Million in Compensation For Census Fail (abc.net.au) 60

IBM will pay more than $30 million in compensation for its role in the bungled census, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated. From a report: The Prime Minister described the four Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks that caused a 40-hour outage inconveniencing millions of Australians as "utterly predictable, utterly foreseeable." "I have to say -- and I'm not trying to protect anyone here at all -- but overwhelmingly the failure was IBM's and they have acknowledged that, they have paid up and they should have," he said. "They were being paid big money to deliver a particular service and they failed."
Piracy

Aussie Internet Pirates Are The Best Customers (torrentfreak.com) 48

A report commissioned by the Australian government has found a drop in piracy rates for 2016. The fall is being attributed to improved availability of legal streaming alternatives, but as TorrentFreak points out, the report also reveals that the much reviled Aussie pirate is often the industry's best customer. From the report: Streaming, on the other hand, increased from 54% to 57% year on year, with TV shows and movies making the biggest gains. "The proportion of internet users who streamed TV programs increased from 34% to 38% (making TV the most commonly accessed content type via online streaming) and the proportion of internet users who streamed movies increased from 25% to 29%," the report reads. This year the most-consumed content were TV shows (41%, up from 38% in 2015), music (39%, down from 42% in 2015) and movies (33%) and video games (15%). When all four content types were considered, the survey found that consumers streaming content on a weekly basis increased significantly, with 71% doing so for music and videos games, 55% for TV programs and 51% for movies. [...] However, in yet another blow to those who believe that genuine consumers and pirates are completely different and separate animals, the survey also reveals that millions of pirates are also consumers of legitimate content. In 2016, just 6% of Internet users exclusively obtained content from pirate sources. And there was an improvement in other areas too. When the survey presents figures from internet users who consumed content in the period (instead of just 'all Internet users 12+'), 37% consumed at least one unlawful file, down from 43% in the same period in 2015. Using the same parameters, 9% consumed all of their files unlawfully, down from 12% in 2015. But while there have been improvements in a number of areas, the volume of content being consumed illegally is not coming down across the board. According to the report, an estimated 279m music tracks, 56m TV shows, 34m movies, and 5m video games were consumed in the three month period.
Earth

Feeding Seaweed To Cows Eliminates Methane Emissions (www.cbc.ca) 283

Dave Knott writes: A Canadian farmer has "helped lead to a researcher's discovery of an unlikely weapon in the battle against global warming: a seaweed that nearly eliminates the destructive methane content of cow burps and farts," reports the CBC. "Joe Dorgan began feeding his cattle seaweed from nearby beaches more than a decade ago as a way to cut costs... Then researcher Rob Kinley of Dalhousie University caught wind of it." He tested Dorgan's seaweed mix, discovering that it reduced the methane in the cows' burps and farts by about 20 per cent. "Kinley knew he was on to something, so he did further testing with 30 to 40 other seaweeds. That led him to a red seaweed Asparagopsis taxiformis he says reduces methane in cows burps and farts to almost nothing."

"Ruminant animals are responsible for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, so it's not a small number," said Kinley, an agricultural research scientist now working at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Queensland, Australia. "We're talking numbers equivalent to hundreds of millions of cars."

The researcher predicts a seaweed-based cow feed could be on the market within three to five years, according to the article. "He says the biggest challenge will be growing enough seaweed."
Australia

Commercial-Mining Drones Keep Getting Attacked By Eagles (abc.net.au) 136

An anonymous reader summarizes an article from ABC News: The world's seventh-biggest gold producer has lost more than nine drones because of eagle attacks. "People couldn't believe I was able to get such a good photo of an eagle airborne," complained surveyor Rick Steven at a conference sponsored by the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. "But I didn't... Another eagle took that photo... I was getting attacked by two eagles simultaneously." The specially-constructed drones carry a $10,000 camera for high-resolution photos and equipment that produces high-detail contour maps of potential mining areas, and so far the company estimates they've lost more than $100,000 worth of technology to eagle attacks. They've tried camouflage -- including disguising the drones as another eagle -- but unfortunately, according to Stevens, the eagle is the "natural enemy" of the drone.
One drone's video is interrupted by the sudden appearance of an eagle, followed almost immediately by footage from the ground by a sideways drone camera. That video -- included in the article -- ends with a reminder that "Eagle attacks on drones have been documented across the world, to the point where some European police forces are now training them to take down unauthorized aircraft."
Cellphones

Browser Use On Mobile Devices Exceeds PC Browsing Worldwide: StatCounter (cnet.com) 34

Google is only expected to push the mobile web further now that there are 2 billion active Chrome installs. At the Chrome Dev Summit, Google's vice president of Chrome engineering and the conference's opening speaker said, "We have over 2 billion Chrome instances that are active," which makes Chrome a platform with immense power. The company is expected to reveal how the platform's unbeatable reach earns Chrome and browsers in general a place on the big stage. CNET reports: That power is essential to making Google's vision a reality. If it succeeds, that browser icon might be the one you reach for on your home screen a lot more often. Success on that front also could help restore the fortunes of the web, the closest the computing industry has come to freeing us from software that works only on one device or another, like a Windows laptop but not an iPhone. In an era when tech giants wield tremendous power, the web levels the playing field and makes it easier for new competitors to join the game. It's no wonder Google is pushing the mobile web. This month, browser usage on tablets and phones for the first time surpassed usage on PCs, analytics firm StatCounter said. In October, global mobile and tablet browsing accounted for 51.3% compared to the desktop's 48.7%. However, in other parts of the world the desktop is still king. For example, in the UK the desktop accounts for 55.6% of browsing, 58% in the U.S. and 55.1% in Australia. StatCounter CEO Aodhan Cullen said: "This should be a wake up call especially for small businesses, sole traders and professionals to make sure that their websites are mobile friendly. Many older websites are not. Mobile compatibility is increasingly important not just because of growing traffic but because Google favors mobile-friendly websites for its mobile search results."
Australia

Australia To Play Strategic Role in Biggest Ever Search For Extra-Terrestrial Life (abc.net.au) 25

Australia's role in the biggest ever search for alien life has officially begun, with the Parkes Telescope in central west NSW set to play a strategic part in the 10-year journey. From a report on ABC:The $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative has been underway in the United States for about nine months. Overnight, the telescope -- affectionately known as the Dish -- achieved first light with an observation of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the nearest star to our Sun, Proxima Centauri. According to CSIRO program director John Reynolds, that so-called "exo-Earth" would be a good place to start looking for other life forms. "Alpha Centauri, or its little companion, Proxima Centauri, is actually the closest star to Earth -- it's only 4.3 light years away," Dr Reynolds said. "Just this year a planet was discovered around Proxima Centauri -- it's called an exo-Earth because it has some of the properties of Earth."
Education

Ask Slashdot: What Training Helps Older Programmers Most? 435

brown.dragon is an older programmer moving to Australia. He writes: I want to start an online solution that other programmers find helpful, and right now I'm wondering if I should go with "learning new technologies" or "getting really good at the basics". Both are targeted towards giving a career boost to older programmers...

Would you like to keep in touch with the latest technologies because that's what makes it easy to get jobs? Or would you like to be really good at answering (Google/Facebook/Amazon) algorithmic interview questions?

He asks programmers looking for an online educational tool, "which of these (if any), would interest you?" So leave your answers in the comments. What training do you think would help older programmers most?
Twitter

'Armies' of Twitter Bots Bolster Both The Trump And Clinton Campaigns (technewsworld.com) 214

An anonymous reader writes: During the first U.S. presidential debate, "automated accounts were tweeting messages with hashtags associated with the candidates. For example, #makeamericagreatagain or #draintheswamp for Trump; #imwithher for Clinton," according to TechNewsWorld. They cite researchers at PoliticalBots.org, who "found that one-third of all tweets using pro-Trump hashtags were created by bots and one-fifth of all Clinton hashtags were generated by automated accounts."

In addition, "Political actors and governments worldwide have begun using bots to manipulate public opinion, choke off debate, and muddy political issues... We know for a fact that Russia, as a state, has sponsored the use of bots for attacking transnational targets... We've had cases in Mexico, Turkey, South Korea and Australia. The problem is that a lot of people don't know bots exist, and that trends on social media or even online polls can be gamed by bots very easily."

After the second presidential debate, "Pro-Clinton bots 'fought back'," reported the BBC, adding that they were still outnumbered by the Trump bots.
Privacy

Red Cross Blood Service Admits To Personal Data Breach Affecting Half a Million Donors (abc.net.au) 32

The personal data of 550,000 blood donors that includes information about "at-risk sexual behaviour" has been leaked from the Red Cross Blood Service in what has been described as Australia's largest security breach. From an ABC report:The organisation said it was told on Wednesday that a file containing donor information was placed on an "insecure computer environment" and "accessed by an unauthorised person." The file contained the information of blood donors from between 2010 and 2016. The data came from an online application form and included "personal details" and identifying information including names, gender, addresses and dates of birth, a Red Cross statement said. Red Cross Blood Service chief executive Shelly Park said "due to human error" the unsecured data had been posted on a website by a contractor who maintains and develops the Red Cross website.
Businesses

Apple CEO Tim Cook: 'We're Going To Kill Cash' (cnet.com) 394

At a media event on Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the Touch ID on the new MacBook Pros will make it incredibly easy for people to do online money transactions. After the event, speaking to reporters Cook made a bold statement about how he sees Apple Pay. CNET reports: "We're going to kill cash," he said. "Nobody likes to carry around cash." He makes most of his purchases with Apple Pay (which is not surprising).Cook's comment comes days after Australia's top banks refused to support Apple Pay, saying that the company has been 'intransigent, closed and controlling'.
United States

New Study Shows HIV Epidemic Started Spreading In New York In 1970, Clears the Name of 'Patient Zero' (nbcnews.com) 380

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: A new genetic study confirms theories that the global epidemic of HIV and AIDS started in New York around 1970, and it also clears the name of a gay flight attendant long vilified as being "Patient Zero." Researchers got hold of frozen samples of blood taken from patients years before the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS was ever recognized, and teased out genetic material from the virus from that blood. They use it to show that HIV was circulating widely during the 1970s, and certainly before people began noticing a "gay plague" in New York in the early 1980s. "We can date the jump into the U.S. in about 1970 and 1971," Michael Worobey, an expert on the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, told reporters in a telephone briefing. Their findings also suggest HIV moved from New York to San Francisco in about 1976, they report in the journal Nature. Their findings confirm widespread theories that HIV first leapt from apes to humans in Africa around the beginning of the 20th century and circulated in central Africa before hitting the Caribbean in the 1960s. The genetic evidence supports the theory that the virus came from the Caribbean, perhaps Haiti, to New York in 1970. From there it spread explosively before being exported to Europe, Australia and Asia. The Worobey team also sequenced samples of virus taken from Gaetan Dugas, a Canadian flight attendant named as "Patient Zero." Dugas died in 1984 and stunned researchers when he told them he'd had about 250 sexual partners a year between 1979 and 1981, although it later became clear that was not uncommon. The sequences make it clear he was a victim of an epidemic that had already been raging, and not its originator, Worobey said. "It's shocking how this man's name has been sullied and destroyed by this incorrect history," said Peter Staley, a former Wall Street bond trader who became an AIDS activist in New York in the 1980s. "He was not Patient Zero and this study confirms it through genetic analysis," Staley told NBC News. "No one should be blamed for the spread of viruses," Worobey said.
Australia

A New Attack Allows Intercepting Or Blocking Of Every LTE Phone Call And Text (theregister.co.uk) 80

All LTE networks and devices are vulnerable to a new attack demonstrated at the Ruxon security conference in Melbourne. mask.of.sanity shared this article from The Register: It exploits LTE fall-back mechanisms designed to ensure continuity of phone services in the event of emergency situations that trigger base station overloads... The attacks work through a series of messages sent between malicious base stations spun up by attackers and targeted phones. It results in attackers gaining a man-in-the-middle position from where they can listen to calls or read SMS, or force phones back to 2G GSM networks where only voice and basic data services are available...

[Researcher Wanqiao] Zhang says the attacks are possible because LTE networks allow users to be handed over to underused base stations in the event of natural disasters to ensure connectivity. "You can create a denial of service attack against cellphones by forcing phones into fake networks with no services," Zhang told the conference. "You can make malicious calls and SMS and...eavesdrop on all voice and data traffic."

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